For years, our community has struggled with providing a safe, supportive learning experience for our students. This has resulted in a decline in enrollment in the Antioch Unified School District, as more parents have opted for private education, inter-district transfers, homeschooling and charter schools.
But when parents opt out of our local public schools, they are not protesting the great teachers at AUSD. They are saying no to a system that continues to overstretch staff resources. Within the last year, AUSD has cut counselors, teacher aids, college and career staff, librarians, custodians, bilingual aids, and much more. Most recently, AUSD cut 26 similar positions (totaling $1.8 million) from its budget.
Now, both the City of Antioch and AUSD are facing a tough question: whether or not to fund over $3 million to place six cops on our school campuses known as student resource officers (SRO). But is it really the right response?
It’s understandable that as a community we may feel that adding police to our schools will make our children safe. But cops on school campuses are not an effective solution, which is why schools throughout our country are moving away from this practice in favor of more holistic solutions.
A recent paper by the Brookings Institution found that increasing investments in SROs does not lead to safer schools. Instead, they found that academic achievement is a much stronger predictor of school safety. Another paper published in Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice found that students felt less safe in the presence of SROs.
Often by the time an SRO is involved in a student’s life, we have already failed them in a million different ways. More than two-thirds of children report experiencing at least one traumatic event by the time they reach the age of 16. Based on a 2018 survey of our students, a full 70 percent of 11th graders in Antioch identified with the statement, “I felt sad and down.” And according to the most recent Census statistics, 24.9 percent of AUSD students — more than 7,000 kids — are living below the poverty line.
It’s not hard to imagine how these factors can lead to trouble at school. Yet school incidents could be prevented with the right resources. For the same cost as the six SROs, we could hire around 20 counselors to staff nearly all of our schools. But our efforts don’t have to end there. By providing quality after-school programs, access to food and shelter, and a supportive community, we can begin to address the true underlying causes of student underachievement issues rather than just the symptoms.
When we invest in SROs over education, not only are we teaching our kids that we see them as violent and in need of policing, but we are ignoring the root of the problem. On the other hand, by addressing the basic needs of our students such as access to food, shelter, and mental health resources, we can dramatically improve not only the safety of the school, but student achievement as well.
By connecting troubled students with a trusted counselor, we can reduce their feelings of hopelessness. Kids could learn to express their anger in healthy ways as well as develop resilience to help them through traumatic events.
Too often, the lack of student resources and support leads to tragedy. How many more students does the community have to mourn before our city leaders can make bold, innovative decisions to address the equity issues at the heart of the challenge with school safety?
Cops are a band-aid solution to under-resourced schools, and a very poor one at that. We must resist the temptation of using our overstretched police department to solve our communities most complex problems, even if it makes us feel better.
Now more than ever, we need to let our leaders know this is not the way we want to solve this problem. Join in this conversation on my facebook page: facebook.com/antonioforausd
Antioch Resident & Candidate for Antioch Unified School District